blissful blogging
Our family of four lives in beautiful southern Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay.  After renting a beach house for 11 years we finally took the plunge and bought our own little piece of Americana, a renovated one-room schoolhouse age unknown. There have been many additions to this little house but the charm of the original structure is still evident particularly in the red brick steps leading to the front door.  We love our little piece of land, which backs to a 250-acre farm and gives us nightly viewings of the American Whitetail Deer and other local wildlife.
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The Blessings of Budgeting

by Beverly Sullivant--NJ Wedding Minister on 03/21/13

My husband and I have been married for more than 18 years. For nearly 17 of those years, we participated in a special "dance" when it came to handling money decisions for our household.

Each year, Wayne would create a budget based on our joint income. He would show me the budget and I would pretend that I understood it. Then, each month, we would look at the budget again to see whether we were staying on track or if we were spending too much. We were often spending too much. 

Since the areas in which we were over budget had to do with the parts of the household I was responsible for (entertainment, clothing, childcare needs, gifts), the review of the budget often resulted in a crying jag from me and a vain attempt at consolation from Wayne.

Looking back, I think I, somehow, I had it in my (subconscious) mind that if I got upset often enough, he would just give up and would stop bothering me with this magnified look at my financial inadequacies. Being the consistent persevering man I married, Wayne just kept afoot with the  budget reviews month after month, year after year.

At the start of this year, however, I reached a turning point. Girded with the motto that it is "better to join 'em than to fight 'em," I decided to do whatever I could to be aligned with Wayne on this budget thing. I approached him one day saying, "I've made it my New Year's Resolution to  work hard at coming in under budget this year. And, for every month that I succeed I want a star put on a chart."

Wayne's first reaction was a smile. The next day, he gave me his second reaction.

"Ill do you one better," he said. "For each month that we come in under budget, we will take the difference and split it in two. One half will go into our savings. The second half we will split between us to have as personal spending money."

"Okay," I said, "but I still want star."

I had no idea that following through on this idea would be so great.

I now find pleasure in making decisions to curb spending rather than blow money on things that are not essential or planned.

I find pleasure in knowing that the receipts I hand to him represent victory and not shame.

I find pleasure, for the first time in 18 years, in the idea that we will set aside time to review the budget. It's like watching the a game show. I can't wait to see the result and find out if I'm going to win!

So much pleasure. And an unexpected side effect as well. All of this pleasure has led to an increased desire to come together in the bedroom. We are like giddy teenagers these days, all because we are willing to work as one on something as mundane as a budget.

Marriage holds many surprises. May you find yours.

Sparing the Little White Dress

by Beverly Sullivant--NJ Wedding Minister on 10/06/12

At a recent wedding, I was all set to lead the bridal party down the cascading staircase at the Westwood in Garwood, NJ, when the flower girl came up to me and said, "excuse me," while she handed me a little white item with blood all over it. Her front tooth had just come out. And, after the tooth, a glob of deep-red blood was about to come out as well....all over her pristine, white, flower girl dress.

I had a tissue in my hand so I shoved it into her mouth. Then, I noticed that there was a glass of ice water on a nearby table. I took a piece of ice from the glass and told the little girl to stick it where her tooth used to be. She followed instructions and I was able to continue the line up for the processional.

However, it was too late for me to do something with the tooth, so I ended up holding it in my hand during the ceremony. When everything was over, I returned to the Bridal Suite with the tooth and began searching for a place to leave it. Aha, the ring boxes were there! I put the tooth in one of those boxes and informed the maid of honor (who was the mother of the flower girl) of the tooth's location. 

I don't know if that white dress ended up with chocolate from the cake, or grenadine from a Shirley Temple, on it later during the reception. But I do know there was no blood from a newly-lost tooth all over the dress during the ceremony.

5 things to consider when hiring a wedding officiant

by Beverly Sullivant--NJ Wedding Minister on 07/26/12

Since most brides (and grooms) are on a budget for their big day, they often shop for their officiant by price. Price is not the only marker of value. Here are 5 other things to consider when selecting the person who will help you make the most meaningful commitment of your life.

#1 Geography

First, find out if the officiant is based in a place that is close to your ceremony location. I recently was considered as a possibility for a wedding in Ocean County, NJ. Since I live and work in the northern-most part of Morris County, NJ, this distance was going to be a serious challenge. As much as the couple and I enjoyed getting to know each other in our phone conversations, the decision about hiring me came down to geography. It just didn't make sense to risk my being able to arrive in time for their weekend-at-the-shore celebration. I was glad for them that they continued their search and found an officiant who was much closer to the venue.

Questions to ask a prospective officiant: How long will it take you to get to my ceremony venue? Have you ever driven to this area on a day and at a time that is similar to my wedding day/time?

#2 Rehearsal needs

Will you need your officiant to be present at, and even coordinate, your rehearsal? This question requires a lot of thinking and depends upon the management at your ceremony venue and/or your wedding coordinator (if you are having one). Some bridal couples may think they are doing the right thing in saving money by hiring me at my most inexpensive level--the Basic Package. With this package, I work with the couple ahead of time to create the right ceremony text for them. And then, on the day of the wedding, I arrive (at least) an hour in advance and wait to take my place to perform the ceremony we agreed on. With this package, I have not been hired to coordinate any kind of rehearsal.

This works when there is a coordinator at the venue, or you have hired your own wedding coordinator who can line up the bridal party and give them directions for walking to their places (including the pacing of the walking, how to stand, what to do with the bouquets, etc.). A good officiant, because he or she has been to and led many weddings, will know how to rehearse the group for the ceremony. But this rehearsal takes extra time (even an extra drive to the venue because most rehearsals take place on a day other than the ceremony day) and preparation (we need to put our "rehearsing" caps on long before we arrive!). If you are going to need the officiant to lead the rehearsal, plan for this cost as you shop for this person.

Questions to ask yourself: Do I have the rehearsal covered already? Or, will I need/want my officiant to do this?

#3 Ceremony Needs

Some couples want to have a very short ceremony, with the guests being seated for only a brief time while the vows and rings are exchanged and the couple is pronounced husband and wife. Then it's off to the main attraction--the reception.

Other couples desire a ceremony that sets the tone for the reception as well as for the rest of their lives. This kind of ceremony includes a couple of well researched and carefully matched readings that reveal the nature and nuances of the couple and their families. This kind of ceremony has unity rituals that reflect the combining to two or more lives into one relationship. This kind of ceremony might include a personal message presented by the officiant. Such a message would be based on in-person meetings as well as the completion of questionnaires that illicit specific and special information about the couple and the kind of life the dream of together. Lastly, in many cases, this kind of ceremony comes with a keepsake copy of the ceremony text so that couples can pore over every word of the experience that made them married.

Seriously think about the importance and priority do you intend to give your ceremony during the course of your whole wedding day. After a lot of thinking, then start interviewing the officiants you think can provide the wedding you want.

Questions to ask yourself: What kind of ceremony do I/we want? Short, simple?  Or full and vibrant and able to speak for us as a couple? Can this officiant provide the ceremony I/we are envisioning?

#4 Flexibility with other vendors

The officiant is not the only important vendor at your ceremony. You'll have a photographer, or two, and possibly a videographer. You'll have someone to provide music whether it be a string quartet, a pianist, a soloist or even a DJ with and iPod. You might have a wedding coordinator who is under a lot of stress making sure all of the details are correct. Your officiant needs to be a professional who provides respect and deferential treatment to the rest of your ceremony team.

Let me offer an example of the kind of flexibility I provide. Recently I presided at a wedding held in the church where I serve as pastor. During a downtime in the ceremony (i.e., not during the vows or the readings), I noticed that the bride and groom were whispering to one another and giggling and displaying a loving regard for each other and for their special day. I figured that the photographer might want to capture these tender moments. In order to do so, the photographer needed to stand behind me up on the altar, which is rather taboo for a church setting. I decided that, for this specific situation, the flexibility of having the photographer walk around for a few minutes was warranted. Later, I learned how appreciative he was of my flexibility when he thanked me profusely for the generosity of the moment.

Questions to ask a prospective officiant: How will you interact with the other professionals at my wedding? What wedding vendor is most important during the ceremony? (This is somewhat of a trick question. You are looking for someone who will say all of the vendors are important.) What are some of the things you've done in the past to help other vendors do their job well?

#5 What do others think?

Check the reviews about your proposed officiant. Find out what other couples (brides mostly) say about the person you consider hiring. Look at the words more than the scoring and determine if there are matches between another couple's wedding experience and the one you and your fiance hope to have.

Questions to ask yourself: Were the other couples pleased with the length of the ceremony? Have the other couples mentioned the work this officiant did in advance of the wedding day? Does it seem like the officiant was personable and likeable?

I hope all of this provides you and your fiance with a roadmap leading you to the officiant who can do the best job at your wedding.

For more information about me and my services as an officiant, visit my website at

When Vendors Work Well Together

by Beverly Sullivant--NJ Wedding Minister on 07/23/12

I rarely have an experience of conflict with another vendor at a wedding. But I also rarely have the kind of simpatico chemistry that I had this past Saturday at the wedding of Annalia and Chris at my church in Kinnelon, NJ. 

     Annalia and Chris chose Gary Flom, of, as their photographer. Gary introduced himself to me right away and asked very respectfully whether he could use flash photography during the ceremony. This deference to my role as the officiant warmed my heart and compelled me to do what I could to help him have a great experience.
    As things got underway, I noticed that Gary and his second-shooter were able to hit their marks on all of the standard shots--the groom nervously waiting at the front, the bride entering with her father, the flower girl taking a break and sitting down on the steps of the chancel. 
     In fact, Gary and his assistant were so good at what they were doing that I often forgot that they were present. This is a good sign of a great photographer. I'm glad that I didn't completely forget about them, however, because after the candlelighting ceremony, there was a moment I didn't want them to miss.
    Once Annalia and Chris finished lighting their main candle and returned the side candles to their places, the couple walked around the table and stood in their "spot" facing me. I leaned in to them and told them that, since they'd already made their vows, they were now married and any talking between the two of them would be their first marital conversation. This spark a series of passing "sweet nothings" to each other as the "Ave Maria" continued on piano and strings.
    I was enjoying the look of endearment on the faces of the bride and groom and just knew that their expressions would be valuable to Gary. So, I looked over at the photographer and with just a nod and a hand gesture was able to encourage him to come around behind me so he could shoot Annalia and Chris while facing them.
    Gary followed my advice and quietly found a discreet location for capturing some of the most intimate images of this wedding.
     I can't wait to see these pictures!

A Tightly-Tied Theme

by Beverly Sullivant--NJ Wedding Minister on 07/06/12

When a bride chooses to design her wedding on her own, she does well to stick to a theme. This is the case of Katie, whose wedding I performed at The Mill at Spring Lake Heights on Friday, July 6. It seemed natural for her to choose an ocean motif since the venue was close enough to the water for the bridal party to have the "first look" photos taken on the beach nearby. What she did with the ocean theme was complete and, yet, subtle at the same time.

     Bridesmaids gowns were a flowing sea foam green. Sand dollars served as escort cards. The Rehearsal Dinner invitation featured a starfish in the sand.
     My personal favorite touch was the inclusion of an excerpt from "The Gift from the Sea" by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, which says, in part, "We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb....Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits--islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides."
     Nice work, Katie. Many blessings to you and Jeff.

The Case of the Visualized Wedding

by Beverly Sullivant--NJ Wedding Minister on 05/17/12

One of my recent couples, Christy and Patrick, held their wedding at the Grand Cascades Lodge at Crystal Springs Gold Resort in Northern, NJ. The Grand Cascades is a great venue for a wedding and Christy and Patrick knew this. They knew it for a long time.

     Grand Cascades had been the sight of many weekend excursions for this New York City based couple. In fact, when Patrick designed his proposal to Christy, he choose to surprise her on one of their trips. Once engaged, and having booked the Lodge for their wedding, the weekend visits became a chance for them to visualize, again and again, how their wedding ceremony and reception would fall into place on their special day. Fortunately for them, on one of the trips, C&P had the chance to observe someone else's wedding. Patrick even captured it on his phone so they could review the processional and the placement of the wedding party many times as they thought about their own.
     The term "creative visualization" has been around for a long time. It refers to the imagining of a desired outcome and then repeatedly rehearsing that outcome to insure the full realization of the outcome desired. According to Wikipedia, a good sports-related example, is when "a golfer may visualize the 'perfect' stroke over and over again to mentally train muscle memory."
     This is what happened with Christy and Patrick's wedding. By viewing other ceremonies, visiting the ceremony and reception sites many times, and looking at the video on Patrick's phone, they rehearsed their dream until it came to fruition on that beautiful day in April. Things fell into place, just as they had imagined.
     Now, if only someone could have anticipated the way the wind would whip Christy's veil around her face, there could have been some creative visualization with that as well.

The Circle of Marriage

by Beverly Sullivant--NJ Wedding Minister on 01/07/12

One of the things I have a couples do when they come to me for pre-marital counseling is the Circle Exercise. With this exercise, each partner is given a sheet of paper and a pen and told to draw three rings in relationship with one another. Each ring has a significant role: one is the marriage itself; one is the wife; and one is the husband. It is important in this exercise to draw the rings in such a way that they reflect how the husband, wife and marriage all correspond to one another.

Sometimes, one or two members of the couple will draw three equal-sized rings and place two next to each other at the bottom and one at the top creating a triangle, or hierarchy of rings. This arrangement leaves both the wife and the husband outside of the marriage itself--as if they are still single and not committed to marriage yet.

Sometimes, a member of the couple will draw a big ring in the middle and smaller rings on each side of the big ring, with parts of these outer rings overlapping the sides of the big ring. In this arrangement the marriage has more prominance than it did in the arrangement described above, but it still reflects an unhealthy view of marriage in that the partners are still on the outside of the marriage.

With some couples, they have an instinct that the marriage itself needs to be more important than the individuals in it. These couples draw a large marriage ring and then draw two individual rings, representing the wife and husband, inside the larger ring. This is a much healthier perspective on the relationship of a couple and their marriage. The marriage needs to be larger than either one of the partners and it needs to be larger than both partners together. The marriage contains the couple and healthy marriages live according to a respect for the union first and for one another second.

When each person commits to the bounds of the union, in the exchange of vows, they agree that they will honor the union--the marriage--regardless of the regular, everyday annoyances brought into the relationship by either partner.

The ideal husband and wife relationship is one in which the husband and the wife both recognize that they are ameniable to the marriage more than they are to one another. There are so many times in a marriage, especially in times of conflict, when it feels nearly impossible to change or compromise according to the wishes of one's spouse. In these times, a realization that the change or compromise can be done for the benefit of the marriage, rather than for the spouse, can move a couple forward and keep them from remaining stuck in this-is-how-I-want-it-to-be limbo.

Having a healthy regard for the importance of the union over the individuals also provides each person with a sense of safety and protection. If they both are saying, "I will stay in this marriage according to our vows," then each one has the room to fail or be inadvertanly hurtful or develop new interests or investigate new professions with the implied support of the other person.

And in marriages where individuals are given room for all expression of their individuality (in the context of the vows), each person has the best chance to live a rich a fulfilled existence.

Be merry; be married.

A Change of Plans

by Beverly Sullivant--NJ Wedding Minister on 01/05/12

When Lindsey and Michael set about planning their October 2011 wedding at the Brownstone in Paterson, NJ, they originally decided to ask a local justice of the peace to lead them in their exchange of vows. As the time grew closer to their special date, however, they decided to look for an ordained officiant instead. This is how they came to find me.

Over coffee and dessert at a diner in September the three of us got to know one another and we planned out some of the special features of their ceremony. They wanted traditional vows, but no extra readings. They wanted sweet words for their ring exchange and a something simple for the declaration of their being married. They also wanted a sand ritual, which became the highlight of their ceremony.

Lindsey and Michael had purchased a rectanular plexiglass box that stood vertically and contained a black and white photo of themselves. Their sand colors were black and white as well. So, as I spoke about the meaning of the sand and the designs it makes as they poured it, Lindsey and Micahel created a beautiful memory box to display in their new home.

For this couple, deciding on an ordained officiant rather than a justice of the peace, helped them create a ceremony that spoke eloquently of their new life together.

A Father's Love

by Beverly Sullivant--NJ Wedding Minister on 10/27/11

The very first time I met with Larissa Molina and Matthew Stiller, I learned something important to them. Larissa's father, Neftali Molina, served as the IT manager at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and piloted a project to modernize the on-line membership program of the museum. Before he could complete his work, Neftali Molina died of cancer. 

"Larissa's dad was fun to be around," Matt told me. "He lit up the room every time. He was a great man to learn from and talk to."

Larissa shared the experience of being the child of such a wonderful man. "He was my first love. I adored him because he adored me first."

Larissa and Matt chose to honor Neftali's memory by taking a moment in their ceremony to place a single rose on the chair next to Larissa's mom. They asked me to write about Neftali in my special message to the couple. They requested to be introduced as "Mr. and Mrs. Matt Stiller and Larissa Molina-Stiller." They wanted Neftali to be as present in their wedding as possible.

With such emphasis on Neftali Molina in the wedding, Larissa and Matt will certainly keep Neftali's memory alive throughout their life together.

The Real Deal

by Beverly Sullivant--NJ Wedding Minister on 10/06/11

When Barbara was searching for an officiant, she used the Internet and found me. We had a conversation on the phone and agreed on a price. We exchanged a couple of e-mail messages. When it came time to committing to booking me, Barbara said that her fiancé wanted to know if I was real.

I told her that his question reminded me of the story of The Velveteen Rabbit, which is a children's book by Margery Williams. It's the story of how a toy rabbit becomes a real rabbit when it is loved by the child that owns it.Here's the excerpt I read at weddings:

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery gate, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but Really loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get all loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

Barbara and Ray are a very Real couple. They have both been loved for a long time by many family members and friends, most of whom were present at the ceremony. There hair has not been loved off and there eyes have not dropped out, but they are loved, truly, nonetheless. May their married love provide them with the chance to be loved even more.

With this ring.

by Beverly Sullivant--NJ Wedding Minister on 09/05/11

When Casey came through the doors of the restaurant at the Stockton Inn (Stockton NJ) and began walking down the aisle to her groom, Chris, it brought a smile across his face. It was the first time he had seen her all day. And, it was the first time he was able to see the gorgeous ball gown style wedding dress she selected. He was overcome. Later, when the two of them said their vows, they each had to hold back tears. 

All of these emotional expressions are common in weddings. They are the moments that reveal the deep significance of the commitment the couple is making.

With Casey and Chris, there was a new, additional version of the emotional moment. It came when Chris was sliding Casey's diamond wedding bands on her finger. While he was doing so, I asked him to repeat after me the words, "Casey, with this ring, I thee wed." 

Silence. And more silence. Chris's head was tilted down toward Casey's hand. 

The silence was broken when Casey nudged Chris's elbow, thereby bringing him out of his strange spell. Chris snapped to attention, shook his head as if "coming to," and finally spoke the vow. Since the entire reaction made the guests break out in laughter, Chris explained. "It looks so nice," he said (meaning the rings).

The rings did look great on Casey's hand. And this couple looked like they really enjoyed their wedding....and each other.

and the Bride wore.....the essence of calm

by Beverly Sullivant--NJ Wedding Minister on 08/16/11

From the first time I met Saturday's bride, Megan, I picked up on her gentle, easy-gait style. A bar-b-que reception at a winery? Okay. Table numbers with canoes? Okay. Groomsmen wearing blue oxford-cloth shirts and khakis? Okay. Megan is just one of those great "take life as it comes and make the best of it" kind of people. Groom, Todd, is the same way.

When I arrived at the Four Sisters' Winery in Belvidere, NJ, well in advance of the ceremony, I was able to observe Megan and Todd as they walked the gravel roads alongside the fields of corn and flowers that were on the property in addition to miles of grape arbors. Photographer Aaron Berger, known for capturing the moment rather than the photo op, was with them as they strolled and, with his assistant, clicked away as the bride and groom chatted about the cupcakes being arranged and the guests arriving early and the bug that flew up against the skirt of Megan's gown.

Megan remained calm through everything. She also held her composure well throughout the ceremony, speaking her declaration and vows audibly and evenly with grace and pride. 

The one moment that was different? That eternal fragment of time when Todd finished sliding the diamond wedding band on Megan's finger. I watched as Megan looked down at the ring, gasped a bit, and beamed with the realization that, with her ring, she was married.

Great bride. Great couple. Great wedding.

Somewhere between the brook and the butterfly bush

by Beverly Sullivant--NJ Wedding Minister on 07/23/11

Minutes before the backyard ceremony of Karlie and Joe, I asked Joe about his vows. Karlie had written hers weeks before and was able to incorporate them into the wedding script that had been prepared. The spot on the script where Joe's vows were supposed to appear just said XXXXX. So I should not have been surprised that Joe's response to my question about his vows was, "I'm just going to say 'ditto' after Karlie does hers."

I didn't worry, however, because I was able to observe some things about him. I noticed the moment when he was taking her in with his eyes while she gave instructions to the caterer. I admired the way he patiently explained to their sons why they needed to wear their tux jackets during the ceremony even though doing so made them "sweat A LOT." I was right next to him when he called out to Karlie with a concerned voice, "Honey, honey, you're stepping on your dress."

I didn't worry whether Joe had his vows written down because Joe was all about commitment and marriage and understanding and caring and loving his relationship and his family and his wedding day. In the end, Joe's vows, which were articulate and rehearsed and clearly planned in advance, were a deep and powerful expression of his love and devotion for his wife.

It was an beautiful ceremony. We stood on a grassy knoll between butterfly bushes and a babbling brook. A damselfly kept alighting on my binder. The bride was radiant. And the groom nearly stole the show by saying a lot more than "ditto."

A Bit About Me

by Beverly Sullivant--NJ Wedding Minister on 07/07/11

I've been a small church pastor for many years. I've been with families when they've been richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, to celebrate the births of their children and when death parted them. It gives me a special perspective on the sacred nature of wedding vows. A wedding's not just a party, or even a beautiful ceremony. A wedding is an amazing expression of hope...of faith that we can rise above our frail human natures and create something bigger than the sum of our parts. It's my instinct to be engaged with who you are and what your unique story is.

More than speaking of love, speak of action. What is it that you promise to do and to be, with this person, for the rest of your life? Weave your love story into the story of your wedding to create a meaningful, memorable, and intimate moment for you and for your guests. Make it a moment that you will never forget. I can help you.

What's In a Date?

by Beverly Sullivant--NJ Wedding Minister on 07/01/11

They talked many times, in their 12-year courtship, about going to Paris for vacation. Many times. And she often said that when they did they should do it as a married couple. Six weeks ago, Levi, booked the reservations for the trip. He made all of the plans. Now, Wendy needed to make plans as well--plans for their wedding so they could arrive in Paris in love--and married.

Once they realized that the departure date Levi arranged was the anniversary of the day they met, it was clear that the wedding needed to take place on that date--Friday, July 1, 2011.

And that was how it came to be that Levi and Wendy finally tied the knot, in an intimate (very intimate--8 guests and an officiant) affair in their back yard, followed by a wedding luncheon, followed by final packing, and finally, followed by the drive to the airport to board a Paris. Congratulations, Wendy and Levi. Avoir un bon mariage!